Regulators publish reports into criminal advocacy standards

Posted On: 
27th June 2018

Barristers and solicitor advocates representing clients in criminal courts are generally delivering a competent service to the public, two reports released today have found.

Published by the Bar Standards Board and the Solicitors Regulation Authority, the first report explores the views of the judiciary on the current quality, provision and regulation of advocacy within the criminal courts.

Jointly commissioned with the Bar Standards Board and produced by the Institute for Criminal Policy Research of Birkbeck, University of London, the Judicial Perceptions Report, involved in-depth interviews with 50 High Court and circuit judges.

Alongside this the SRA’s Thematic Review of Criminal Advocacy, was informed by data gathering and interviews with 40 solicitors’ firms actively involved in providing advocacy by solicitors within the courts.

Overall the two reports suggested that while the quality of advocacy was generally meeting standards, there were some examples of poor advocacy.

Key findings of the jointly commissioned judicial research included:

  • While judges viewed the current quality of advocacy as competent, some felt that standards were declining in some areas, especially in relation to core courtroom skills such as case preparation and the use of focused questioning.
  • Advocates’ skills in dealing with young and vulnerable witnesses are largely improving.
  • The most commonly cited barrier to high quality advocacy was advocates taking on cases beyond their level of experience.
  • Judges were uncertain over when, and how, they should report poor advocacy to regulators.

Key findings of the SRA’s thematic review included:

  • Firms use in-house solicitors to support the vast majority of criminal work in magistrates' courts and youth courts (90 percent), and 29 percent of work in the Crown Court.
  • The solicitors’ advocacy market is dominated by smaller firms and increasingly ageing individuals, while the number of new entrants to the market is falling.
  • Levels of complaints regarding advocacy work are relatively low (22 recorded complaints in two years across all 40 sample firms).
  • Approaches to training are inconsistent, with its delivery often infrequent, limited or not planned.

Building upon the findings of both reports the SRA will be undertaking further work to understand the work of solicitor advocates.   The Bar Standards Board also intends to publish its strategy for assuring the quality of advocacy shortly.

Paul Philip, SRA Chief Executive said: “Everyone involved in legal proceedings has the right to expect that those representing them in court have the necessary skills and expertise required to do so effectively.

“These reports show that standards are being met but there is more to do. We will be working with our fellow regulators and the profession to ensure that quality is maintained and people receive a good service.”

Vanessa Davies, Director General of the BSB said: “I am pleased that judges find that the quality of advocacy which they experience in the criminal courts is generally competent and sometimes very good.  But they also acknowledge that some of the pressures on advocates, not least current financial pressures, do threaten that quality and that there are some examples of poor performance.  We remain determined to ensure that standards of advocacy are maintained and improved where needed.”